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Are you one of those horse owners who has to use both hands to pull your horse’s hooves up off the ground every time you want to pick them out? You’re not alone, but there’s an easier method. Use my tips to teach your horse to effortlessly pick up his feet off a gentle cue.
Put a halter and 14-foot lead rope on your horse. Then take him to a big open area — like an arena where he has plenty of room to move if he overreacts. You don’t want to practice this lesson in crossties or a narrow barn aisle, because if the horse were to move, the situation could quickly turn dangerous.
Drape the lead rope over your outside elbow and slightly tip the horse’s nose toward you. By having the horse’s nose tipped toward you, if he went to move, his hindquarters would move away from you rather than toward you.
On the horse’s front legs, you’re going to gently squeeze the chestnut (that little piece of hard skin on the inside of his legs) to have him pick up each foot. Using your thumb and index finger, gently touch the chestnut. If the horse ignores you, increase the pressure by squeezing the chestnut. If he still ignores you, squeeze the chestnut between your fingers even harder. And if he still isn’t responding, you may have to twist the chestnut between your fingers.
As soon as the horse takes his weight off the foot — no matter how slight — immediately release the pressure and rub his leg with your hands. At this point, all you’re doing is teaching the horse a cue to take his weight off his leg. You are not actually trying to pick up his foot.
Initially, if he even shifts his weight off the foot, reward him. As he gets better, you can get pickier by expecting him to actually lift his foot off the ground before you release the pressure.
Just like when you were working with the horse’s front legs, you want to keep the lead rope draped over your outside arm and have the horse’s nose tipped toward you.
On the back legs, the cue for the horse to pick up his foot is to lightly squeeze the cap of his hock. Start by gently squeezing the cap of the hock, then increase the pressure by squeezing harder and harder. As soon as the horse responds by taking his weight off his leg, immediately release the pressure and rub his leg.
When you have the horse picking his front and hind legs up off the ground, then practice holding each leg up. At first, when he picks his foot up, just hold it off the ground for a split second. Then drop it. You should be picking his leg up and dropping it so fast that he thinks to himself, “Was he just holding my foot?” Instead of picking up the foot and waiting until the horse pulls it away, you’re going to pick up his foot and drop it before he has a chance to react.
Gradually increase the amount of time you hold his foot up off the ground. One second will turn into two, then three, etc. As you’re holding the horse’s leg up, rub it with your free hand. Let him know he has nothing to worry about when you’re holding his leg.